The Tommyknockers by Stephen King (1987)

Western-novel writer Bobbi Anderson lives in rural Haven, Maine, where she spends most of her time alone, writing, hiking with her dog, with an occasional visit to her neighbor Jim. Jim “Gard” Gardner is an barely functioning alcoholic, failing poet, and anti-nuclear activist; he is also Bobbi’s sometimes lover.

One summer morning, Bobbi and her dog, Pete, are hiking in the woods outside her home when Bobbi stumbles across a metal object that she cannot identify, nor remove from the soil. Intrigued, Bobbi makes a cursory attempt to remove the object but finding it too heavy, and lodged too deep, and thinks to continue hiking and forgot about it. But she finds that she cannot. She is inexplicably drawn to dig the object up. She works for hours the first day, and then finds herself returning day after day, digging endlessly trying to retrieve — desperate to retrieve — the object and find out what it is.

The object has an immediate and hypnotic effect on Bobbi, and her obsession with it begins to take over Bobbi’s life. Despite the fact that bizarre and terrifying events begin happening once she discovers it, Bobbi cannot stop her excavation.

Three weeks after Bobbi’s discovery, “Gard” arrives back in Haven to find Bobbi a changed woman; nearly mad and physically almost dead from the efforts of her digging and other “projects” that have consumed her since finding the object. Bobbi reveals to Gard what she has found — what she calls The Tommyknockers — and he is stunned…not just by her discovery but by the way it has transformed her into someone almost unrecognizable.

The two must decide what they will do with the discovery: the revelation might change the world (if they can convince the world that the Tommyknockers are real) but it also might mean that the two of them would be locked up and interrogated for more information. And there are the fascinating projects that Bobbi has begun to build, things that seem as if they should not exist at all, and certainly not built by a writer with no previous technical skill; things that are of immense importance and value.

To keep it secret means they risk the unearthly pull the object has on them, with no one and nothing to dilute its effects. However it also means that whatever gifts or knowledge the Tommyknockers have to bestow upon the world will belong to just the two of them…at least for a while.

What will they choose? What will the Tommyknockers reveal? What risks are worth taking and what are Bobbi and Gard willing to give up of themselves in or to receive the Tommyknockers wisdom?

 

 

 

 

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Final Girls by Riley Sager (2017)

final girls

Ten years ago, Quincy Carpenter woke in a hospital and found that she had been initiated — unwillingly — into the most gruesome of sororities: she had become a Final Girl. A Final Girl was the name given to women who are the sole survivors of a mass murder.

Quincy was welcomed to the horrific club of women when she had escaped from a deranged killer who had brutally stabbed and killed five of her closet friends. Straight out of a horror flick; six college students had traveled to a secluded cabin in the woods to spend a fall weekend and an escapee from a local mental institution had attacked them, with only Quincy escaping with her life. Immediately, the media and many online “crime fan” groups were clamoring to add Quincy to the small group of infamous women who made up the Final Girls. Disgusted, Quincy refused to accept her Final Girl status and she rejects offers of help from the other Final Girls.

In the  intervening ten years, Quincy has painfully worked to forget the attack and rebuild her life. This has been eased — if that is possible — by the fact that she remembered very little of the actual attack. Quincy is shocked from the cocoon of a life she has created when she learns that a fellow Final Girl, Lisa — one who mentored many other young women going through similar trauma — has committed suicide. Suddenly, it becomes clear to Quincy that being a survivor of one horrible tragedy did not guarantee that you could survive all of life’s other heartaches. Quincy had looked up to Lisa and admired her fierce will to live; her suicide knocks Quincy off course.

Soon, Quincy is acting out, taking risks, and finding herself under the influence of people who might lead her into dangerous situations… or worse, deliver her back into her own worst nightmare.

This novel was scary, thrilling, well-written, and such great fun to read. I loved it, and think that despite the long, long list of thrillers I have read this summer, this is the one of the best.

The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone (2017)

hatching cover

In several rural parts of the earth, a simultaneous hatching of a terrifying and fast-reproducing population of spiders has been awakened from deep within the earth. These insects are capable of devouring every human in their path and of spreading across the globe with little difficultly. How will the world respond to a threat they never could have imagined?

This supernatural thriller reads like a mash-up of Dan Brown novels and the movie Contagion: covering plot lines and introducing characters on six continents in a huge array of political, military, and scientific careers who all work in concert to identify the threat and how to stop it from causing global genocide.

Told through the viewpoint of several narrators, and many other smaller characters — as disparate as the President of the United States, a Marine, a doomsday prepper, entomologist, and FBI agent — the story of the Hatching, and the subsequent effort to contain it, unfolds. The phenomenon grows unchecked in the early days of the hatching; both because no one wants to believe this is possible and because the rural areas where it began were places no one (with the power to intervene) seemed cared about. When it disaster erupts in urban cities and happens on camera, the world begins to pay attention…and to realize their disbelief has put them at a huge disadvantage. The following action shows, in great detail, how the characters respond to the threat.

Despite its great plot line, the book remained a bit underwhelming.  Characters in the story — and there are many, many characters — are presented without too much depth, the author relying mostly on the fast moving, unsettling plot. At times his female and non-white characters — who are already somewhat poorly drawn — seem to devolve into caricatures of themselves (a female scientist who is also obsessed with sex; the young African American solider who joined Marines to avoid jail; a gay prepper who takes time to make cocktails) further emphasizing the weak character development. Overall readable, but not outstanding.

 

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn (2014)

This is a short blog post about a short story, written by Gillian Flynn of the bestseller Gone Girl and dedicated to George R.R. Martin, for whom she said “asked her to write him a story.”

In this unsettling short story, we meet a young con-woman who is looking to move up in the world, to give up street begging and get into a more legitimate grift. Enter Susan Burke, a desperate young mother who believes her house is haunted and her stepson deeply, perhaps homicidally, affected by its evil. Sensing a large score, our narrator agrees to cleanse the house and stop the terrifying events that are traumatizing the family.

The story gives a nod — quite literally, as it was named on page nineteen — to the undeniably wonderful classic horror story The Haunting of Hill House  and which I reviewed on this blog in October 2015, find it here http://wp.me/p6N6mT-15 .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night Shift by Stephen King (1978)

This post was written by my husband, a literature professor and fellow book lover. He reads as many scary books as I do in October, so I asked him to write a review of one book that stood out for him this season. Here it is…

Outside of creative writing classes, the short story doesn’t command a large readership these days. We can still see the vestiges of the short story’s former glory days in mainstream magazines like The New Yorker, The Atlantic and Harper’s, but the short story has, by and large, been relegated to more academic publications. Novels are the literary form of choice for readers at a time when screens provide most of our short-form narrative entertainment.

That being said, the brevity and intensity of the short story still maintains a challenge to the length and depth of the novel in the horror genre. Horror starts with folk tales and bedtime stories told by firelight on cool nights in the autumn and winter months. Horror is developed in the short, concentrated explorations of the creepy and the weird by Poe and H.P. Lovecraft and Flannery O’Connor and, in our generation, Stephen King. The short story is the perfect vehicle for horror, allowing us to experience the mind-bending and be utterly frightened, but only for a moment, as we come back to the relative safety of our real worlds.

I was probably twelve or thirteen when I first read Night Shift, snagging it one latch-key after-school afternoon from my parents’ eclectic bookshelf. I remember starting with one of the easier stories, almost appropriate for a twelve year-old boy, the playful “Battleground.” In this story, an apparent hitman is one-upped by his next mark, who cuts the assassin off at the pass by sending him a very unique letter bomb. The package contains a platoon full of live—and heavily-armed—action figures. Once our protagonist realizes that these G.I. Joes are serious, he has to quickly shake off his disbelief and fight back. King invests as much in this shaking off and fighting back as he does in creating the strange horrors that his characters have to face.

The now-famous story, “Children of the Corn,” follows much the same pattern: regular folks must face horror and find out if they can live long enough for it to change their lives. In both “Jerusalem’s Lot” and “One for the Road,” we get two points in the history of what will become the wonderful novel, Salem’s Lot, and in these stories, regular Down Easters have to face the apparent reality that has come to a small Maine town.

In “Gray Matter,” we get something a bit more difficult to handle, a man who is overtaken by the botulinum-ish something that has infected one of his beers. Poor Richie becomes something unthinkable. Likewise, the grounded astronaut in “I am the Doorway” must come face-to-face, or at least hand-to-hand, with an experience beyond comprehension.

King’s Night Shift takes up the work begun by Poe’s Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, meaning that he uses these stories to explore two similar but distinct responses to what scares us. For Poe, the grotesque refers to the kind of fright that drives one instantly mad, the gory and the unspeakable, while the arabesque seems to refer to something that is horrible and repulsive but that profoundly absorbs our attention. The grotesque is the horror that we just cannot even…; the arabesque is the horror that we need to deal with, and terror is how we deal with it. Night Shift gives us both kinds.

October Book Series — Young Adult Book Reviews

The author's Self Portrait

The author’s Self Portrait

Guest authoring this post is my 12 (almost 13) year old son. He also took of all of the photos posted as well. He loves scary books as much as I do and he was happy to share some of his newly finished spooky finds – some mystery, thriller and horror novels. My son is a Creative Writing student at a local performing arts middle school, very happy to practice his writing skills. He told me that I definitely should add that these are only about half of the books he read so far this month.

Ten By Gretchen McNeil (2012) This is an unnervingly realistic story following a teenage girl, Meg, who goes to a party on a small island. A violent storm hits and the teens settle in to watch a movie. When they find a DVD labeled, “Do Not Watch,” they watch it, to see a creepy video with a person in a mask threatening to kill THEM! They think it’s a prank, and then people start dying. Who is the killer, and who will survive…?

Undead By Kristy McKay (2012) Zombie movie meets humor novel. In this comedic take on a zombie thriller a teenage girl, a rebel, a nerd, and a glamour queen all trapped in snowy British town full of zombies. The teens struggle to survive the zombies…and there irritation with each other. Full of great jokes and scenes, this will have you laughing from page 3 on. The plot keeps you guessing and it is nice to read about murderous zombies without being scared to death. Like one of the characters jokes, “wait, wait, we don’t need to run from these guys. They can only shuffle. We can get away by walking briskly.”

Better hope this was not a zombie escape.

Better hope this was not a zombie escape.

The Vanishing Season by Jody Lynn Anderson (2014) When a girl from Chicago moves to sleepy town in northern Illinois she expects every thing to be boring. Then a wave of mysterious murders of teenage girls riles up the town. The county is sealed off from the rest of the state in an attempt to keep the town’s girls safe (and the murderer in!) Alternating chapters are introduced by the ghost of one of the girls. Keep’s you guessing until the very end…maybe even longer.

Season of the Witch by Mariah Fredericks (2013) Toni is being bullied by Chloe, the meanest, most popular girl in school. Toni reaches out to Chloe’s boyfriend asking for help, but the boyfriend refuses. A creepy Goth girl befriends Toni and convinces her to do a spell on the boyfriend but it rebounds back on the girls because the boyfriend was not the real bully. So of course, the girls do more spells, than more, things spiral out of control, and a killing spell is conjured.

The Haunting Hour by R.L. Stine This is a collection of ten short stories which are more entertaining than scary, with the topics that range from dragons to zombies. The book jacket promises I “will be haunted for life,” but personally they were barely at all scary, maybe because I am reading much scarier books this month. The creepiest story is about a babysitter that forces the kids to make voodoo doll cookies that the kids don’t take seriously enough and they end up hurting their neighbors.

Monster, Scavenger Hunt, and Die Softly all by Christopher Pike

Monster (1992) This is an old story* where a girl named Angela’s best friend bursts into a party and kills two people claiming they were secretly alien monsters. Angela knows that it is crazy for her friend to do this and she begins to investigate. What she discovers is horrifying. (Not for children under 12!!)

Scavenger Hunt (1989) When Carl joins his best friend’s team for a special end-of-the-school-year scavenger hunt, he feels happy to be included with the cool kids. But, then the clues for the hunt lead them astray and things start getting weird. Carl wonders if they are following the clues to the right place. And what will they find at the end of the hunt?

Die Softly (1991) A geeky boy from the school AV club tries to gain popularity by taking pictures of some cheerleaders in the locker room. What he ends up taking pictures of is a possible murder of one of the girls. He sets out to find out what really happened in the photos, and risks ending up dead.

What lies behind this door... Torture chamber? Mad scientist library? Dentist's office?

What lies behind this door… Torture chamber? Mad scientist laboratory? Dentist’s office?

A note from the author’s mother:

*By “old story” my son means the books are set in the 1990’s.

It was thrilling to pick a book and have my almost-teenage son not only love it, but ask me to help him find more by the author. (It is a rare occurrence when he will admit anything I like is cool.)

I was very excited to find these three books at the Thrift Shop since Christopher Pike’s books from the early 90’s are largely out of print. Christopher Pike was an absolute favorite writer of mine when I was in middle school. My best friend Danielle and I read all of his horror novels (our favorites were Slumber Party and Gimme a Kiss) and would talk about them for hours. To this day, she and I still bond by sharing books we loved with each other.

Sunset at cemetery.

Sunset at cemetery.

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (2007)

This book was absolutely terrifying. It was also absolutely mesmerizing. By page seventy I had already put the book down several times wondering if I would be able to sleep if I kept reading, but I could not stop picking the book back up. It was so well-written, with such compelling characters and a truly unique (albeit super scary) bad guy, that I swallowed my fear and plunged ahead.

The main character Jude, an aging rock star whose celebrity is fading, has lost his interest in the wild life and anarchist persona of his earlier career. Largely retired to a farm in New York with his much younger girlfriend, Jude lives among a large collection of dark, occult souvenirs (books bound in human skin, lobotomized skulls, spell books) given by fans believing his heavy metal, devil-worshipping stage act. When an email comes in offering Jude a chance to own a ghost who will come haunt his house, he does not hesitate before buying it. By the start of the third chapter, the haunting has begun.

Immediately upon receiving the ghost, the lives of Jude and his girlfriend MaryBeth begin to unravel. The ghost is everywhere at once, moving objects, causing wounds that won’t heal, dredging up horrible fears in the minds of the people in the house. This haunting is particularly terrifying because there is no escape and no way to defend against the ghost’s influence. Day and night, wherever Jude goes the ghost follows, altering his thoughts, controlling his actions, and putting the people around him in danger.

Jude realizes that the ghost cannot be ignored and its malevolence is very personal. In order to make sense of the horrible things happening, he must look closely at his past and bring to light dark moments he thought were long behind him. Slowly it becomes clear that the answers and relief Jude seeks will only come from confronting his past.

The story is really wonderful, told with the perfect balance of terrifying action and deep character study. Even though I really want to dislike Jude, I come to care about him and want to see him safely through this ordeal. A wonderful book for October, but be prepared to look over your shoulder a bit while reading.

NOTE: In addition to being scary, this book also includes descriptions of sexual violence which are very disturbing. If you are sensitive to these topics, I would pick another selection.